When Two Wheels Are Better Than Four
To celebrate the MR PORTER London Nocturne, we get on our bike and take a tour of the city with five stylish cyclists
Getting from A to B in London can be sweaty work – especially during summer. But the city’s nine million residents could never claim to be short of options. Linking up this sprawling metropolis is a network of hundreds of bus routes that serve thousands of stops, nearly a dozen subterranean railway lines stopping at 270 stations, a fleet of riverboats, a system of trams and a few thousand miles of road teeming with more than 20,000 taxis.
One means of transport ideal for keeping your cool but not traditionally associated with London is the bicycle, but that is changing. The roll-out of cycle superhighways and bike rental services – known as Boris bikes, after the city’s ebullient former mayor – has kickstarted something of a two-wheel trend on the streets of London, and the number of commuters who now choose pedal power over public transport is such that Transport For London believes the number of bicycles entering the city during rush hour will soon surpass the number of cars.
This June, MR PORTER is sponsoring the 10th edition of the London Nocturne, a night-time cycling event and street party in the heart of the City. To mark the occasion, and to celebrate London’s burgeoning cycle scene, we took to the streets to meet a few guys for whom two wheels are better than four.
The MR PORTER London Nocturne takes place in Cheapside, London, from 3.00pm on 4 June
MR CHARLIE LOUDON
We caught up with Mr Charlie Loudon, 28, outside his home in Bethnal Green, east London, at 7.00am as he headed off to work. The offices of his law firm are on Fleet Street and his normal route takes him directly through London’s hectic financial district, so beating the traffic means waking up bright and early. He rides a bike with an old Mannesmann frame, which he has refitted over the years. He describes it as a labour of love, but he’s not sure that it always loves him back. “I’m not a natural mechanic, so parts occasionally drop off,” he says. “The only crash I’ve had was when I snapped the chain and went over the handlebars.”
Where did you get your bike?
What modifications have you made to it?
I’ve gradually fixed it up over the years. The gears have been stripped, chain set replaced, wheels changed, frame stripped and repainted, et cetera, et cetera. It’s kind of like the ship of Theseus now. So much has changed, it’s debatable whether it’s the same bike any more.
Have you bumped into any interesting people while cycling in London?
I once nearly ran over Pete Doherty outside Sadler’s Wells. Does that count?
Mr MARCUS CHAPMAN
Mr Marcus Chapman, 37, is a director and trustee of the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), a mental health charity dedicated to reducing the suicide rate among men. CALM was recently selected as a charity partner for Heads Together, an initiative spearheaded by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry that aims to end the stigma around mental health. Mr Chapman no longer lives in London – he relocated to Barnstaple in Devon, southwest England, to be closer to the sea – but he still makes regular business trips to the capital. He’s now organising the fourth annual Nelson’s Tour de Test Valley, a charity cycling event held in memory of his best friend Mr Nelson Pratt, who took his own life in 2012. We bumped into Mr Chapman at Arnold Circus in east London.
Why did you set up a charity cycling event in memory of Mr Pratt?
Nelson loved sport. He was a professional snowboarder – he coached Jenny Jones, the Olympic bronze medallist. He loved being outdoors, and he’d never have wanted us to deal with what happened by getting depressed and wallowing in it.
How did you get into cycling?
It was a practical choice. I’d moved to London for work, and it was a healthy, quick way of getting around the city. Once I got a bit more into it and started signing up for events, I realised it was a great excuse to see the world.
Nothing to do with getting fit, then?
Well, you do need to be in fairly good shape to really enjoy it. Climbing hills is not fun when you’re not fit. Trust me.
Where are your top spots for cycling in London?
Richmond Park is a classic cycling spot, and for hill training there’s a road in north London called Swains Lane, which runs between Highgate Cemetery and Hampstead Heath. There’s a good pub at the top, too, so you’ve got something to aim for.
MR OLIVER SPENCER
We met the 47-year-old menswear designer outside his store on Lamb’s Conduit Street on a bright but brisk April morning, punctuated by sudden flurries of snow. (A typical spring day in London, then.) He’d just cycled the six miles from his home in Brook Green, west London, on his old Brompton, a folding commuter bike invented in London and named after the Brompton Oratory, a church in South Kensington that he often passes on his way to work. “I absolutely love it,” he says. “The design of it, the mechanics of it, everything. It’s a real English icon.”
Talk us through your cycling history as a Londoner.
Dangerous, in a word.
In what way?
London’s not set up for cyclists in the same way that, say, Amsterdam is. If you don’t have your wits about you, then I strongly advise you to get off and walk.
Have you developed a sense of self-preservation since having kids?
I used to have a racer when I first moved to London. When the kids arrived, I traded it in for something a little more substantial: one of those big Dutch bicycles with a basket on the front. And now I’ve got a scooter. I can’t be doing with all those fumes.
Do you feel inspired by the city’s cycling scene?
I did a collaboration with [cycling brand] Vulpine, and I’ve made cycling jackets before. I’ve always been interested in performance through quality fabrics, but I’m not desperately into the super-tight get-up that these chaps like wearing. That’s not really my scene.
Mr ANDREW DIPROSE
The Inner Circle of Regent’s Park, a traffic-free and perfectly round 0.6-mile loop, is a great place to come if you want to grind out a few training miles. That’s not why Mr Andrew Diprose is here, though. The 43-year-old creative director of UK Wired magazine passes through the park every day on his commute from Stoke Newington in northwest London to the offices of Condé Nast in Hanover Square. “It’s not the fastest route,” he smiles. “I just come this way to avoid the cyclists.” Mr Diprose grew up riding bikes on the south coast of England with his brother, Mr Philip Diprose. Together, they publish The Ride Journal, an annual magazine dedicated to cycling stories.
Do you enjoy your commute?
Of course. Commuting is often seen as a dirty word in cycling circles, and I just don’t understand why. I hate hearing people talk about “trash miles”. The freedom to move around the city under your own steam and to come and go as you please is surely the best thing about cycling.
As a creative, it must help to be surrounded by the sights and sounds of the city.
When you work in an office, it’s vital to have that time every day to feel alert, alive and a part of the city that you live in, to have that chance to experience the smells, the noise, the dirt, the graffiti. You arrive at work feeling inspired; you arrive home feeling relaxed. That just doesn’t happen when all you do is sit on the train.
So when you wake up on a Monday and it’s raining, you’re never tempted to hop on the Tube?
Never. My worst day on a bike is better than my best day on the Tube.
MR PETER CHIPCHASE
The Soho House network of private members’ clubs has expanded in recent years to include several locations across Europe and North America, but it remains headquartered in the central London district from which it takes its name. We grabbed a quick coffee with the company’s chief communications officer, Mr Peter Chipchase, just a couple of streets away from the location of the original house. Mr Chipchase, 38, had just cycled into work from his home in Wandsworth, southwest London. His commute is a charming one, taking in leafy Wandsworth Park, crossing the river at Chelsea Bridge, weaving through Belgravia and finally arriving in central London via Hyde Park.
Do you do more on a bike than just commute to work?
I’m in training for my fourth L’Etape du Tour, which is happening in early July. It’s the “sportive” stage of the Tour de France, and it gives amateur riders the chance to cycle the same route as the professionals. I honestly don’t know how they do it. I’ve run a few marathons, and they are nothing compared to the pain of riding a single stage of the tour.
What attracted you to cycling?
Football was always a huge part of my social life; my entire weekends revolved around it. I’d always been quick, but I started to lose that pace and couldn’t really compete any more. I needed to find something to replace football. Cycling has a great social side to it. Five or six of you go out and spend a few hours catching up. It’s a great way of maintaining friendships, whereas the alternative might be just sitting in the pub.
Has becoming more involved with cycling affected the way you dress?
The middle-aged man in Lycra thing might have given cycling a bit of a bad reputation, but I’ve always thought of it as a very stylish sport. Have you heard of Jacques Anquetil? Apparently, he used to carry a comb in his back pocket.